sci-fi · THE WITCHING HOUR · Writing

Genre-Hopping & Close Encounters

I wrote a blog post back in February about how I was experiencing a bad case of writer’s block which seemed something more akin to a weird apathy towards writing that I didn’t really understand. That apathy has haunted me so much this year, to the point where despite doing a good job of making it look like I’m working on new projects, all I’ve really been doing is creating aesthetics for each new idea in the hope that it might inspire me to write. Because every story must have an aesthetic before you start, right?

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The reality is that I haven’t really been working on new stories at all. Every time I’ve opened a new WIP or notebook, I haven’t been able to think straight to even start writing, let along manage a single paragraph. The longer this has gone on, the more I think I’ve allowed myself to make excuses about why I can’t write eg. okay, maybe I’m done with it, maybe it’s done with me, maybe I’m not really a writer, blah blah blah – you know, all the woe-is-me shite that gets to us all at some point.

At the weekend, however, I had one of those rare epiphanies (I don’t get them that often, trust me): I realised that I’d convinced myself so much that I couldn’t write that I had started to believe it and that, in essence, I was failing myself. What if instead of not being able to write, I had just made myself think I couldn’t do it, thereby allowing myself to give up before I’d even tried?

So, I went back over all my new story ideas and decided I would just pick one and start writing something. Anything. It really didn’t matter what to be honest.

The result? The one I ended up choosing was by no means the story that I ever thought I would write.

Why? Because it’s a genre I’ve never written before.

Now, I know many writers who hop genres. I know writers who hop genres to jump onto an emerging trend or because it’s a more lucrative and popular option. I know writers who hop genres because they’re just bloody good at writing anything they choose to write. I know writers who hop genres because they want to experiment with something different and end up finding they’re in love with writing that new genre. I’ve always looked at those writers with something close to awe, because I’ve tended to stick to the same genre – urban fantasy with a touch of horror or just horror.

I read far more genres than I write, and the older I get, the more genres I discover I like. There are definitely genres I’ve always wished I could write in based on my reading choices. Fantasy is one, thrillers and domestic noir are also genres I love. However, I never thought I would be drawn to writing sci-fi and yet, that’s the one I picked. It was definitely a late-runner in the new story idea stakes and came about mostly from my love for sci-fi films. I’ll be honest here, I don’t read a ton of sci-fi, but I love sci-fi movies, particularly anything alien-related. The Alien movies are some of my all-time faves. I was obsessed with the TV series, Taken. I grew up on a diet of Spielberg and stories of little grey men. I loved anything remotely linked to alien abductions and yes, I loved that cute little alien and his best mate Elliott. DO NOT JUDGE ME!

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Of course, I’m not writing about cute little aliens, but I am strangely excited about this new project despite it not being the one I ever thought I would opt for. I started writing at the weekend, making brief starter notes, then managing to get one very short chapter down that I surprisingly felt really good about. I have no idea whether this one will work out and whether it’s the next big project, but, right now, it feels right and it’s given me the kick start I needed to not only write something, but to also feel inspired about writing again.

Are you a writer that swaps genres? Are you a writer that wishes they could write in a different genre? If so, what genre would you like to write in? Are you a reader who’s recently discovered a new genre that you really love?

Drop me a comment and let me know!

 

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THE WITCHING HOUR · Wattpad · Writing

The Guinevere Beck Problem

*Note: Contains spoilers about the Netflix series You, Wattpad books Playing Dead, Dark Sanctuary, A Dark Fall, Into the Dark*

My lovely work assistant and I recently binge watched You on Netflix (not while we were at work, I might add, just in case my boss or associated people ever read this) and were having daily convo updates on what we thought of the latest episodes we had both watched the night before.

Now, I’m not going to regale you with a step by step of our convos, but, her reaction to Beck really caught my attention.

‘Oh my goodness, that Beck girl!’ she said, ‘How annoying is she? That girl deserves for Joe to kill her.’

I found myself nodding my head.

WAIT. WHAT? I nodded my head in agreement? Why did I do that??

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I mean, sure, I’ll admit I did find her annoying at times, but what was Beck doing that was so wrong that the girl deserved to be killed? And why did I find myself agreeing with my assistant?

Of course, anyone who has seen the show will know that it’s mostly skewed in Joe’s favour. We get most of the story from his POV. We get his thoughts, his feelings, we laugh along at the funny things he says and we root for him when it’s looking like he might get caught. And to top it off, let’s face it ladies, Joe is very easy on the eye. We’re given a guy who is clearly creepy to the max, but good-looking, and Hell, all logical thought goes out the window. Suddenly we’re praying for the next girl to be his victim… because, well, quite frankly, that woman is just NOT good enough for our much-loved obsessive stalker-killer! 

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I’m poking fun at all this, of course, but REALLY, ladies? Is this what we have been reduced to? Do characters, and specifically female characters, deserve to get killed just because they’re cheats or flaky or because you just don’t like them?

What the writers and producers of You did was very clever. We need to be intrigued by Joe and need to somehow become attached to him to keep things going (and get to that all important second series before Netflix hit the cancel button), and while I don’t assume to know what kind of discourse they were looking for, it has reminded me a little bit of the furore involving the Ted Bundy Tapes and the subsequent Zac Efron biopic of America’s favourite hot serial killer. We had the same thing with Jamie Dornan’s character in The Fall. More examples of this fascination with good-looking killers who, and I will shout this loudly, WILL KILL YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE A WOMAN.

Okay, I’ve gone a little off tangent in a way, because this post isn’t about Joe or Ted or even Jamie Dornan (more’s the pity, eh), but it is about female characters and how we react to them. You might be wondering why I’m even discussing You here, because I primarily post about books and writing and the Wattpad experience and you would be right. As it happens, watching You came at the same time as I received a tirade of comments on two of my Wattpad books where readers were berating my female characters for their actions and decisions, so it seemed like perfect timing to bring up what I’m now calling The Guinevere Beck Problem, or The Art of Hating on a Female Character for Not Being Perfect.

One of the very first female characters I ever wrote in my incredibly amateurish Wattpad book, Dark Sanctuary, makes ALL the bad decisions. In hindsight, I know I made huge mistakes with that character, but I still maintain that because she had experienced so much horror and loss in her life, she had developed an innate ability to not trust people, even those who were obviously trying to help her. That distrust often found her ultimately taking the wrong route in life and putting herself in more danger, much to my readers’ frustration, and often anger.

Years down the line from posting this on Wattpad, I’ve become slightly numb to the negative comments, and I definitely don’t take them personally, but a couple of recent comments did make me stop and think ‘What? Really?

It went a little something like this:

‘I hate her now.  I hope something bad happens to her.’

And…

I hate her, I hate her, I hate her.

Sarah’s crime? Daring to put her trust in, and kiss a man that she connected with through similar life-experiences (and in the readers’ eyes, betray the vampire she was meant to love, even though he had bitten her and left her unconscious and then, deserted her, without consulting with her first to discuss the reasons why he had to leave…. damn, take a f-ing breath Lindsey).

Isn’t interesting that because she kissed another guy (and, I might add, only the 3rd guy she had ever kissed in her whole entire life) a reader can hate her enough to want her to suffer? What happens to us as readers when we turn against female characters so much because we don’t like  their decisions, that we wish harm on them, whether emotional or physical?

Likewise, in Playing Dead: Book One of The Whitechapel Chronicles, the kickback my main character, Megan, receives when she cheats on her husband, is markedly different to the reaction her husband receives when readers realise he has done just the same (and actually, far far worse than just committing adultery).

Why do we admonish female characters so much, when we are far less vocal about a male character’s misdemeanours and crimes? In Dark Sanctuary, the male MC was a vampire who had garnered a small personal fortune by charming and then killing rich women. In Playing Dead, Megan’s husband is an adulterer and killer, and even signs away the life of his wife to pay for his own crimes. Neither of these characters earn anywhere near the kind of reaction that my female characters do. How is it we overlook a male character’s faults and errors, and yet we hold our female characters to such high standards?

Of course, now I completely understand that this is fiction and fictional characters we are talking about, so I’m no way suggesting I have a bunch of sociopathic readers on my hands who wish harm on others (at least I hope not haha). Also, I am always aware that as readers we do get passionate about stories and this passion can play out in many ways – adoration, frustration, love, happiness, grief, anger – and what are books without passion?! But, this compulsion we have as readers to go that extra mile with our disapproval and sometimes, hatred of female characters is something that constantly intrigues me.

Fellow Wattpad writer, Scarlett Drake, author of The Persistence of Memory, A Dark Fall and Into the Dark (amongst others), has talked recently of also receiving negative commentary against her female MC’s, Alex and Eloise. Interestingly here, It’s Alex, the middle-class Doctor who gets most negativity out of the two (even though Eloise does have an affair). She’s wrong for being indecisive, she’s wrong for over-thinking things, she’s wrong for not staying with the male MC after discovering he’s a drug dealer (and of course, directly implicit in whatever happens to those people who take the drugs, the very people that Alex could end up treating as a Doctor), she’s wrong for taking a sip of wine when she didn’t know she was pregnant, and wrong for keeping her lover in the dark about that pregnancy (even though he has a ton of shady secrets himself). I’ve even read some of the comments myself and it’s pretty shocking that, from mostly female readers, so many are willing to condemn Alex for her actions, when it’s quite clear that Jake has done far worse. Why do we expect perfection from female characters, but not from the male characters?

In the case of You, Beck wasn’t perfect, but so what? Delve a little deeper and by the end of the series we saw many of the reasons why she surrounded herself with fake friends, why she struggled to hold down relationships with men, why she cheated. But what did she do that was so bad that we might want her to get killed? By the time the series had finished, I found myself feeling very guilty that I had so easily let myself be manipulated into disliking her and not having empathy for her. Even without getting a better understanding of who Beck was until the end, why did I so quickly assume the role of judge, jury and executioner?

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As authors, are we guilty of raising up our male characters onto a golden pedestal, to the detriment of our female MC’s? What role are we playing in creating the ensuing negativity? Of course, as I’ve said above, authors (and in the case of TV, screenwriter, directors, producers etc) do at times intentionally manipulate readers to love a character so much that they can seemingly do no wrong, even if we are quite clear about their flaws. But, in many cases, as readers – and I class myself as one of the guilty ones here – we are highly critical of female characters to the point where we wish they would do a Thelma and Louise off the edge of a cliff.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this, whether reader or writer. Have you experienced The Guinevere Beck Problem? Did you intentionally set out to create this kind of reaction on your readers, or do you think the reaction was unjustified? As a reader, have you ever reacted in a way (like I did) where you found yourself wanting the female MC to take a walk alone down a dark alley in the hope she’d meet a nasty end? Or do you see beyond a character’s flaws and try to find empathy with them, even if you don’t agree with their decisions?

 

 

 

THE WITCHING HOUR · Wattpad · Writing

The Wattpad Dimensional Hole and How to Climb Out

If any of you are Hedoschism readers on Wattpad, you’ll already know that my main man Ethan Drake has an ability to open up dimensional holes and shove his unsuspecting victims into a void worse than being thrown into an oubliette in Jareth’s Labyrinth.

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If you happen to be a writer on Wattpad, you’ll also know that sometimes posting stories on there can be a bit like throwing them into a void of no return. With over 65 million users, over 400 million stories on the site, and new content being uploaded every minute, it’s no wonder that the idea of just posting on there can be daunting, let alone trying to tackle the fact that you’ve got to somehow make yourself and your story visible in a sea of 400 million.

Users are looking for all sorts of different reads and sometimes, when browsing the hot lists in each genre and checking out some of the more popular stories, it’s often a mystery as to what those stories possess that have earned them the numbers of reads/comments/votes that they have. Trust me, I’ve been there, and it’s a fucking conundrum that can NEVER be explained and is often the reason why Wattpad gets such a bad rap from those in the industry and from ardent book readers who see it as little more than ‘that place where kids write terrible fan-fiction’ (and I’m just repeating here, not confirming, as I know there’s actually some bloody good fan-fiction on there AND some amazing teenage writers who are a damn sight more talented than I am).

The problem here is that when there appears to be no magic formula on why a story has become popular on Wattpad (because bad plot/character development/structure/grammar appears not to be a deciding factor in many cases) it’s difficult to know just how to get the reaction you want. Of course, you could just opt for the easy route and chuck in a few ‘Slave to the BTS Vampire Kings’ or ‘Jungkook is my Step-Brother and My Lover’ (rewind a few years and you could replace with One Direction and Harry Styles) and yes, the chances are, if you appeal to a fanbase, then you could find what you’re looking for. However, there are plenty of writers posting original fiction who are struggling to find their place and, apart from requests for writing advice (to which I rarely feel qualified to give) I would say the number one question many new writers ask me, is how do you get noticed on Wattpad? How do you gain reads? How did I do it?

I’ll be honest. Usually when people ask me this, I send them in the direction of a couple of other trusted writers on the site who have penned some fantastic guides for new users. Katherine A. Ganzel has a great book called simply How to Get Reads, Votes and Comments – A Guide and Lauren Palphreyman has posted a book called 11 Ways to Wattpad Like A Pro. Everyone needs a little helping hand when they join Wattpad and trying to work out how to get off the starting line can be hugely confusing.

The short answer to these questions is: interaction is key.

I’ll never forget one user asking me to check out his work and throwing a passage from his WIP into my DM’s, and when challenged as to his method of going about getting people to read his story and what he does to interact in a more positive way with other users, he very confidently told me he ‘didn’t read’ and therefore didn’t see why he had to read other people’s work, because – I kid you not – he didn’t need to read to be a good writer. I mean, HELLO WHAT?

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Let me tell you something I do know with absolute certainty: refusing to read other writers’ work and believing you’re somehow above that kind of interaction is just plain wrong. I’ll die on this hill. Aside from sounding like a total arse, you’re also denying yourself the chance to be part of an amazing community AND gaining yourself readers along the way. When I started out on Wattpad, I was completely new to the writing community. I’d posted on here a little bit and made a few contacts via Twitter, but that was it. On joining Wattpad, I simply hoped that a few people would read my stories, but what I discovered was there was a whole world of amazing fiction that I just wanted to READ. Forget writing for one second. Put that aside, along with the terrible fiction that no doubt does exist on the site, and think about all the brilliant stories that ARE on there. The first thing I did was add a shit-tonne of books to my reading lists and began reading the ones I loved the look of the most.

Now here’s the thing – some of those writers read my books. Some didn’t. Some of the people who were also reading those writers’ books, began to read mine. Some didn’t. I discovered some of those readers were also writers and I added and read their books. And so on, and so on. It’s a never-ending circle of discovery – you find new writers you love and you gain a few readers along the way.

That kind of interaction – without agenda, just a desire to be part of a growing community of people who just fucking LOVE books was the first thing I discovered about Wattpad and it was also how I accidentally gained my first readers, some of whom are still with me today. It really is all about how much you want to get involved with the community and how much you want to put in to supporting other writers and connecting with readers who love all the same stuff that you do.

But… now here’s the other thing, and it was something I alluded to in my previous post Wattpad and The Art of Letting Go : you can read all the guides that you want, you can listen to advice and follow all the steps to the letter, but it’s no guarantee of success and certainly no guarantee of gaining the number of reads that you want. I say this with conviction, because with over 23k followers and over 6 million reads across my stories, I STILL find it hard to gain new reads. I’ve done most of the things the guides tell you to do. I’ve had successful stories. I’m part of the Wattpad Star program and this year won a Watty award. But YES, I still find it bloody difficult to gain reads.

Take Hedoschism as a prime example. It has 2 Awards under it’s belt, was the Wattpad HQ Read of the Week and was added to the Featured List, but it’s still taken me over a year to accumulate 165k reads. Now, compare that to Playing Dead which gained a million reads in the same amount of time. If you have any idea of how much time I’ve spent agonising over the slow uptake of Hedoschism and wondering why it hasn’t inspired as much reader interest as Playing Dead, I think you’d be surprised. But the truth is, I’ve really bloody agonised over it, so much so that I’ve thought about giving up at least a few times on a weekly basis and have severely doubted whether I should even stay on Wattpad as a result. Even after the Watty 2018 win, which saw very little uptake in readers, I have wondered what the heck I am doing pretending that I’m even remotely capable of writing a story that will hold a reader’s attention. (At this point, I’m completely aware some people will tell me that 165k is still a good amount of reads and there are many people who are on far less, and let me say, I understand that, but rather than focus on the figures, I’m simply making a case for the fact that just because you achieve a certain amount of reads doesn’t guarantee you the same again, and to try and prove that even those of us writers who you might think are complacent about reads or don’t care about stats, still agonise over them and doubt our own abilities just as much as anyone else.)

Rest assured, this is in no way a cry for sympathy. I don’t want that, because I know deep down that thinking in this way is complete and utter bullshit. I know it. And that’s not me blowing my own trumpet, or telling you I think I’m the dog’s danglies, because I don’t believe that either. What I am saying here is that to measure your worth as a writer by the number of reads you’re getting on Wattpad is, quite frankly, a one-way trip to Anxiety Central. Why, you might ask?

I’ll repeat what I said earlier: 65 MILLION USERS. 400 MILLION STORIES.

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Do you have any idea of the likelihood of becoming one of those lucky ones who has millions of reads and millions of followers? Or even hundreds of thousands?

Think logically about it. 65 million users across 400 million stories. Do the maths. Honestly, do it. It might make you feel a bit better.

If you’re not getting that level of reads, it does NOT mean that you’re not a good writer. It does NOT mean that the content you’re publishing is not bloody brilliant. It just means that the maths is counting against you. I know so many amazing writers who don’t get the reads I think they deserve. I know writers who didn’t get those level of reads on Wattpad, but who’ve gone on to have publishing deals, or who have self-published with great success. I’ve known writers who’ve moved to different monetising platforms and gained the traction they never had on Wattpad (disclaimer: I’m not endorsing those sites, but what works for one, doesn’t necessarily work for another and you gotta do what you gotta do, right?). The point is that the number of reads do not equal your self-worth as a writer nor do they validate your talent.

You want to know the key to writing on Wattpad? Start looking at realistic, personal goals and using the site to achieve those. Maybe your book doesn’t have many readers. Maybe you’re nurturing a small group of dedicated, loyal followers who’ll give you quality feedback. Maybe they’ll be the ones that help you become a better writer, offering advise and support. Maybe they’ll even become your friends – your community. This doesn’t have to be a community of thousands or even hundreds. It could be 5. It could be 20. It doesn’t matter. What matters is building your own community, while also improving your skills, and learning to be a better writer. Maybe you’re looking to try a new genre and want to test the waters? Maybe you have never posted your work online before and want to see if just one person will read it and love it? Start small. Nurture what comes out of that. HONE YOUR CRAFT (I can’t say that enough). Take care of your readers and they will take care of you. Keep those goals with you throughout your time on Wattpad. Remember what it was you set out to achieve and don’t lose sight of that.

Don’t be the writer I became. Don’t chase reads and then beat yourself up when you don’t get what you think you deserve. Don’t crave attention as validation of your art.

You are worth more than the number of your reads. 

 

 

PSYCH THRILLERS · REVIEW TIME

The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet

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‘No one lives this way unless they want to hide something.’

When Caroline and Francis receive an offer to house swap, they jump at the chance for a week away from home. After the difficulties of the past few years, they’ve worked hard to rebuild their marriage for their son’s sake; now they want to reconnect as a couple.

On arrival, they find a house that is stark and sinister in its emptiness – it’s hard to imagine what kind of person lives here. Then, gradually, Caroline begins to uncover some signs of life – signs of her life. The flowers in the bathroom or the music in the CD player might seem innocent to her husband but to her they are anything but. It seems the person they have swapped with is someone she used to know; someone she’s desperate to leave in her past.

But that person is now in her home – and they want to make sure she’ll never forget . . .

I’ve grown to love a good domestic noir and The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet definitely didn’t disappoint. Unlike some of the reviewers of this book, I’m a sucker for flawed characters.  Bring me your adulterers, your screw-ups, your goodies who do bad things for good reasons. In fact, just bring me your goodies who make mistakes because damn, don’t we ALL make mistakes? I’m always a bit perturbed by readers who want perfection and holier-than-thou goodness in their books, almost as if they don’t understand that sometimes people can be selfish and shite and get things wrong. I’m ALL for a bit of reality in my reading material, which is why domestic noir and psych thrillers, and yes, horror books, are right up my street.

I am so pleased that I found this book. I was having a bit of a rush on thriller books at the time and devouring a new one every weekend, and when I saw this, I read the blurb and knew I had to download it and I’m very glad that I did. I loved the premise of the story -without even knowing the story behind the characters, the idea of a house swap, to me, already held a ton of sinister promise, that I couldn’t wait to find out more. I mean, it’s one thing to go and stay in someone else’s house, but the idea of that person staying in yours? Of course, the film The Holiday did this already, but forget a handsome Jude Law dancing under your Christmas tree or a quirky Kate Winslet jumping on your Egyptian cotton bed linen, because The House Swap turned the ‘cute’ concept of house swapping on its head and gave me all the creepiness I was hoping for and more.

I loved the characters, flaws and all. Were they selfish at times? Did they make me want to reach into the screen and grab them by the scruff of their necks? Yes! But, so what? I want characters that rile me and keep me on the edge of my seat. I don’t want Ovaltine and cookies before bed. I want something that grips me and characters that challenge me and I got all of that in this book. The plot and characters were woven together so well that it kept me guessing most of the way through. There was something so tragic about all of the relationships, but so real and I found myself connecting with all the characters and understanding the choices they made, while not always agreeing with them.

All in all, I found this to be a brilliant thriller that I struggled to put down.

 

crime fiction · REVIEW TIME

Tell Nobody by Patricia Gibney

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I discovered this book, quite by chance, when another Bookouture author favourite of mine, Shalini Boland, mentioned it on her Facebook. I ended up downloading it and I’m so glad for that recommendation, because I loved this book from start to finish.

The boy’s body was so white it was almost transparent. But that’s not what caused the nausea to rise up her throat. He was so young. His body was unmarked, surrounded by a halo of plucked wildflowers.

One hot summer evening, eleven-year-old Mikey Driscoll is on the way home from playing with friends. Two days later, his body is discovered on a bed of wildflowers by some local teenagers.

The case is assigned to Detective Lottie Parker and this time it’s personal. The victim was a close friend of her son, Sean, from the run-down Munbally estate on the other side of town. Sean tells his mother Mikey was behaving normally before he died, but Lottie can’t help but feel that her son is keeping something from her…

Then days later, another boy is found dead, surrounded by wild flowers next to beautiful Ladystown Lake.

On the hunt for a twisted individual with a terrifying calling card, Lottie must uncover the web of secrets within Mikey’s circle of friends. Someone is hiding something but who are they protecting and can Lottie find out before it’s too late? Lottie is desperate to catch the killer before he strikes again because this time her own child could be in terrible danger…

I discovered soon after starting that I was reading book 5 of a series, but fear not! You can dive straight into any Lottie Parker book and not be instantly confused that you’ve missed something vital. There’s a few hints at backstory which are clearly in the previous books, but you miss out on nothing by starting later on in the series as I did.

The story quickly grips the reader as the prologue starts with a girl/woman (we’re not sure which at this point) who is staggering through the streets, in pain, possibly injured, and who ends up shunning the opportunity to seek help near the local football clubhouse and instead, stumbles down the tunnel next to the canal. I mean, nothing good can EVER come from walking alone near the canal, right??

The next, we are watching the aftermath of a children’s football match where one of the goal-scorers leaves the post-match party to walk home, only to accept a lift from someone he clearly knows, but who we, the reader, know must have sinister intentions after the journey takes a different route to the one the boy was expecting. Again, accepting a surprise lift always ends in disaster… the tension levels were through the roof already!

What follows is a complex but well-crafted plot of missing children, a missing baby, a confession of murder, and way too many locals who have connections to all the sinister goings-ons. In all honesty, at times, I had no idea how Detective Lottie Parker didn’t wring the necks of all those who obstructed her in her investigation. I wanted to reach into the screen and slap people within an inch of their lives as the wall of silence in the community and families went up. Everyone seemed to have a secret. Everyone was suspicious as Hell! On top of that, Lottie had to deal with her own son’s connection to the case, her new (but hopefully temporary) life living back with her opinionated mother and the fallout she still continues to deal with following the death of her husband.

I loved Lottie. I mean, I do love a damn good female detective anyway and am always intrigued by an author’s ability to make their female protagonist tough and ballsy in a world where she needs to be tough and ballsy, without making her instantly unlikeable to readers. There’s always a fine art to getting srong female characters right (trust me, I know) and it can always go one of either two ways – the Marmite effect, I like to call it – but Patricia Gibney completely nails it with her main character.

The story was compelling and complex, as I have said, although not in a way that confuses the reader because I was able to follow the plot and the numerous characters all the way through. At first, as the story was laid out, I was trying to work out how everyone could be connected, if at all, and it was fun guessing who were the villians of the piece. I always love a story that keeps you guessing and turns even the most innocent of characters into possible suspects, and Tell Nobody certainly ticked all my wannabe detetctive boxes!

This is a total rollercoaster of a read, that went through so many twists and turns that I couldn’t stop swiping at the screen. I can totally see this as a TV crime drama, it was so gritty and so real, that each character came alive on the page as if I was watching a TV show. As the pace began to pick up, I found myself addicted to every word, desperate to find out the secrets in Ragmullin.

This was a brilliant book that I would thoroughly recommend. Now I just need to go back and read the first four! Patricia Gibney definitely just gained a new fan!

horror · REVIEW TIME

The Lingering by SJI Holliday

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This was another brilliant find from the fabulous Orenda Books who seem to have a skill of discovering astounding, talented writers. In fact, these days many of my Kindle buys tend to be from Orenda or Bookouture authors. 

The Lingering intrigued me from the start, the cover is eye-catchingly creepy and the blurb definitely had me hitting that One-Click button on Amazon (how dangerous is that damn button???).

Married couple Jack and Ali Gardiner move to a self-sufficient commune in the English Fens, desperate for fresh start. The local village is known for the witches who once resided there and Rosalind House, where the commune has been established, is a former psychiatric home, with a disturbing history

When Jack and Ali arrive, a chain of unexpected and unexplained events is set off, and it becomes clear that they are not all that they seem. As the residents become twitchy, and the villagers suspicious, events from the past come back to haunt them, and someone is seeking retribution…

At once an unnerving locked-room mystery, a chilling thriller and a dark and superbly wrought ghost story, The Lingering is an exceptionally plotted, terrifying and tantalisingly twisted novel by one of the most exciting authors in the genre.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m really enjoying seeing a bit of a revival on ghost stories recently. It seems writers had moved away from the good ol’ ghost tale over the years, and I don’t think I’d read many myself since the days of the David Ash series by James Herbert and I couldn’t help but always feel there was something quite sad about the fall of the Great Ghost Story.

Reading tales of things that go bump in the night was probably where many of us gained our first experience of horror stories as children, but at some point, we all became a little desensitised to horror and needed shock tactics to bring about the fear factor – think gory horror movies: Saw, Hostel, turning zombies from shuffling shop mannequins to scary AF monsters that could run at you like Usain Bolt on acid. However, with the Netflix production of Shirley Jackson’s 1959 gothic horror The Haunting of Hill House, the concept of the ghost story and the horror it can hold has become desirable again. I feel as if I can’t go online or into a bookshop now without seeing more and more ghost stories on the screen and shelves. I’m sure there are those among you who will say the ghost story never went away, it was just overshadowed by vampires and werewolves and Walking Dead rip-offs, but for me, it’s been a pleasant and enjoyable discovery to see that the genre has risen from the dead (pardon the pun). 

Of course, The Lingering could have turned into one big walking spooky cliché. Yes, we can tick the box for ‘haunted house that was once a hospital where ever so slightly dodgy practices took place’ but that’s where the cliché can remain in its box, because Holliday took me back to what I loved most about ghost stories, while giving it a contemporary twist that kept me hooked. It was spooky, twisted, disturbing and definitely had the goosebumps rising on my skin a number of times as I wandered through the creepy confines of Rosalind House.

I must admit, at the start, I was a little thrown by the switching of POV’s between 1st person present tense and 3rd person present tense, but I am, alas a bit old school (I mean, I just said ‘alas’ which is sadly a dead giveaway, right?) and it took me longer than most to get my head around the contemporary trend of present tense fiction and the switching of POV’s. I read a lot on Wattpad where switching POV’s is a BIG thing and unfortunately, only a gifted few seem to get it right, so I’ve always been a bit sceptical, but, after a couple of chapters of this in The Lingering, I actually found myself really liking it – so much so, that I’m considering experimenting with it in my own writing.

Holliday’s use of POV method was a fantastic tool in aiding reader-character relation. It’s almost like reading subliminal messages within the text and once the story began to open up a bit more and I discovered, not everything was quite what it seemed at Rosalind House, that’s when I realised just how clever Holliday had been with her POV structure. The characters I thought I could trust, turned out to have their own agenda and the ones I was instantly suspicious of, were not necessarily the villains I expected them to be. The whole thing was very smartly constructed and helped ramp up the creep factor throughout.

A haunted house with a tale to tell, suspicious house guests and an addictive plot that kept me swiping the screen for the next page, this was a gripping read. Thoroughly enjoyable!

dystopian

Not All Are Equal – Gilded Cage by Vic James

It seems like forever ago now when I stumbled across the name Vic James, or as Wattpadders know her ‘JayVictor’.

Having just joined Wattpad, Vic happened upon my freshly Featured short story The Fan, a commentary on the sometimes obsessive and unhealthy side of fandoms, and her name flashed up on my notifications feed.

By that point, I’d become slightly disillusioned with the concept of being a Featured writer on Wattpad, having lost the dizzy afterglow some weeks before, when readers descended upon the story in their thousands. My notifications had blown up and I was lost in a chaos of inane comments that left me feeling despondent and despairing that someone would actually provide some constructive feedback on the story itself, rather than tell me which fandom they belonged to, berate me for the character’s foul language (‘it’s limited vocabulary, don’t you know?’) or to tell me that ‘you spelt grey wrong. It’s G-R-A-Y. Spell things correctly, author!’

Then one day, Vic appeared, and I was surprised (and touched) to discover that not only was The Fan the first story she had chosen to read on Wattpad, but that she had zero interest in telling me which fandom she belonged to and actually had something meaningful to contribute. A spark of something constructive that revived my love for the story and gave me the gusto to dive back into the comments board and interact with my readers. After that, I saw Vic’s name crop up quite a bit on my newsfeed as she navigated her way through the site and I even added her story – back then known as Slavedays – to my extensive To-Read list.

Now, I’m going to be honest here.

Slavedays wasn’t top of my list in terms of priority reads.

I didn’t do dystopian. Dystopian had suddenly become one of those trendy genres and I usually like to avoid trendy fiction as much as I possibly can. Remember when Fifty Shades came out and then everyone was writing about millionaire (or even billionaire) CEO’s with a penchant for whips and red rooms? Or when Twilight became huge and everyone was writing about vampire-werewolf love triangles and imprinting wolves and completely forgot that vampires weren’t always sparkly? Hunger Games…. Divergent …. none of it really caught my attention and so, I tended to avoid anything dystopian. To me, dystopian fiction was like your Great Aunt Gertrude, the one you avoided at family gatherings because she liked to spit on a hankie and wipe your face clean while overpowering you with the stench of lavender and moth-balls.

Yeah, dystopian was my least-favourite Aunt.

But still… I liked Vic immensely, having met her at the very first London Wattpad convention (she asked me to attend) and I found myself wanting to read it, just as I often do when I like the author – call it a sense of author-loyalty, if you like. Plus, the book had picked up a lot of attention, winning a Watty Award in 2014 and I knew that I needed to get past my snobby dislike of trend and just read the blooming thing.

Alas (for me) by then, Vic and Slavedays had been signed up by PanMacmillan and the book was removed from Wattpad (the old cover and prologue is still there) and by the time I wanted to read it, I had to wait just like everyone else. Damn it.

But hey, isn’t it just GREAT when you can honestly say that something really was worth the wait??

With the newly-named Gilded Cage downloaded on my Kindle before Christmas (the paperback is out in the UK on 26th January), I finally managed to secure some read-time and settled down at the weekend to dive in, having only managed to find time to read a couple of chapters when it was first released on ebook.

Shockingly, I don’t read nearly as much as I used to, what with work, commuting, motherhood and writing now filling up my schedule but you can rest assured if I put the writing to one side to read – and by read, I mean CONSUME – then you KNOW it’s a bloody good book.

The story focuses on the fate of the Hadley’s, an average family torn apart when they are committed to doing their slavedays – 10 years of compulsory servitude to the Equals, the ruling aristocracy of the land, who rule because they are gifted with Skill, a magical power passed from generation to generation and which sets them apart from the commoners. In a cruel twist of fate, the Hadley’s (almost seventeen year old) son Luke is separated from his family and forced to undertake his slavedays at Milmoor, the grim, brutal industrial slave town, while his mum, dad and two sisters get to serve the infamous Jardines, one of the most powerful families of all the Equals.

At Milmoor, Luke learns quickly, trying to avoid the baton of the security guy Kessler who has taken an instant dislike to him, while also trying to make sure he isn’t crushed by the colossal machinery in the workhouse everyday. Back at Kyneston, the Jardine family estate, the rest of the Hadley’s have seemingly a better lot in life and are put to work serving the strange and powerful Equals.

We soon discover that life isn’t all that it seems in either Milmoor or Kyneston, and both Luke and his family, discover that adapting to their new lives brings more surprises and twists than they could ever have imagined.

The contrast between the grey, dirty almost Dickensian world of Milmoor and the sumptuous luxury of Kyneston couldn’t be more pronounced and I adored dipping back and forth between POV’s, creeping with Luke along the grimy back alleys of the slavetown and then wandering the halls of the Jardine’s stately home with Abi Hadley and her Equal masters. As usual, I am always envious of anyone who writes third person really well, as I really don’t, and Vic definitely nails her characters, giving us just enough tempting insight into each mind to leave us desperately wanting more. The narrative was compelling and I was torn throughout as the story led me through countless possibilities as to who I could trust and who I couldn’t and just when I thought I had it all worked out, I was right back to square one again.

Individual POV’s and plot lines are interwoven within the backdrop of political agenda, secrets and lies and civil unrest, all boiling within this huge cauldron of simmering tension that keeps you turning the page. Added into the mix is the mystery and wonder of the Equals Skill, awe-inspiring and, at times, quite terrifying to behold, in particular I thought, the power of the sinister Silyen Jardine (a particular favourite of mine) and the as yet unknown twisted intent of Lord Crovan (I can’t wait to find out more about him!).

It wasn’t until I reached the jaw-dropping end (and yes, its F-ing jaw-dropping) that I had to sit back and remind myself:

I DON’T DO DYSTOPIAN!!!!

Yet apparently now, I do. Who’d have thought it?

I’m not even going to lie. Gilded Cage rocked my world at the weekend and the truth is, I wasn’t expecting it to, despite the fact there’s been such an industry buzz about this book brewing for months now. Bloggers are talking about it. Industry experts are talking about it. Readers are loving it. I loved it.

If you want a book that’ll have you reeling for days, this is it.

If you’re like me and dystopian fiction is your Great-Aunt Gertrude, or Millicent, or Antonia, read this book. Seriously. Just read it.

If you’re already a big YA Fantasy fan and you’re looking for your next favourite read …well, you catch my drift already, I’m sure.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, this anti-dystopian reader is off to rage at Vic James on every social media account she has, to demand more words. OR ELSE.

FIVE BIG MAGICALLY SKILLED STARS!!!

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